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These pages apply mainly to the United Kingdom.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified by the UK on 8th June 2009. With the possible exception of European treaties, the CRPD is the most important international treaty on disability. To put international instruments in context, see the introduction.


Text of the Convention

The convention text and news are available on the UN website.

EHRC guide and examples

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has produced a very useful guide to the CRPD (link to EHRC website), updated July 2017, called The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities What does it mean for you?

To pick out just a few points from the EHRC guide:

This EHRC guide, under the heading 'What obligations does the Convention place on the government?', says that in the case of some (only some) rights, namely economic, social and cultural rights, the CRPD recognises that many countries may not be able to take steps to make them real for all disabled people immediately, but the government should still make every effort, using all available resources, to make sure disabled people enjoy their human rights as quickly as possible. Also the UN is likely to expect a relatively wealthy country like Britain to be doing better than a developing country.

Does the CRPD have teeth?

The Convention is not directly enforceable in the UK courts. UK anti-discrimination legislation - most importantly the Equality Act 2010 - remains the main legislation one wants to fall within.

However the following are some ways the Convention can have practical relevance. In summary, the Convention seems useful in arguing before the courts for particular interpretations of the law, and perhaps not so useful at present in arguing for changes in central government policy - given that the UK government has rejected the report of a UN inquiry (below) which found that welfare reforms constituted grave or systematic violations of the Convention. Some local authorities may be more responsive to arguments based on the CRPD.

Interpreting UK law

The CRPD may be relevant in interpreting and applying legislation which is directly enforceable in the UK. This includes the Equality Act 2010, for example what is a 'disability', what is a reasonable adjustment, and the Human Rights Act. Further, for public authorities, having due regard to the Convention may be seen as part of their compliance with the public equality duty.

Burnip v Birmingham City Council, Court of Appeal, 2012.
UK housing benefit rules were found to infringe Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court of Appeal said that had it been uncertain whether Article 14 applies (which it was not), the CRPD would have resolved the uncertainty in favour of the claimants.

Interpreting European Union law, to be applied in the UK

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has said that, so far as possible, the Framework Employment Directive (with which Equality Act 2010 must comply) must be interpreted consistently with the CRPD. The CJEU has used the Convention in interpreting this directive (in the Ring case below), and the UK and its courts are bound by the directive as interpreted by the CJEU.

Ring v Dansk almennyttigt Boligselskab, 2013, Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
The CJEU emphasised the importance of the CRPD which the EU ratified in 2010. The court said that the provisions of the CRPD are now an integral part of the European Union legal order. The EU's Framework Employment Directive must, as far as possible, be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the CRPD.

In the present case, the CJEU took the UN Convention into account in interpreting both the meaning of disability (in particular so as to take into account the social model of disability), and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Complaints against public authorities

The CRPD could be used when making a complaint against a public authority, either through internal procedures or through inspectorates such as the Care Quality Commission or Ombudsman.

Monitoring by UN disability committee

Countries' compliance with the CRPD is assessed by a UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ('UN Disability Committee'). The committee can make recommendations where it finds deficiencies.

The UK is undergoing a CRPD examination process in 2017, see the EHRC page on the UN Convention. There are various links on that page, but in August 2017 the UN Disability Committee issued a highly critical report on the UK (CRPD/C/GBR/CO/1), making numerous recommendations.

The government is supposed to report to the Committee every four years. Other organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission and charities can also produce shadow reports to be fed though to the UN Disability Committee. Reports from outside the govenment will be particularly important to the committee in reaching its conclusions. The EHRC says that producing a 'shadow report' is one of the most effective ways of bringing about change for disabled people. For guidance on producing reports, see the EHRC guide to the UN Convention (link to EHRC) under the heading 'How can I get involved in monitoring and reporting?'

Advocating for change

The Convention can be used in advocating for changes to laws and policies, locally and nationally. Having ratified the Convention, the government is supposed to take practical action to make its rights real.

Individual petition to the UN Disability Committee

An individual (or group) can petition the UN Disability Committee if they consider the government (but not other authorities) has breached their CRPD rights and domestic remedies have been exhausted. There is more on this in the EHRC guide to the Convention (link to EHRC website) under the heading 'How do I make a complaint about a violation of the Convention?'

This option to make an individual complaint is available under the Optional Protocol which the UK has ratified. However the scope of this option is limited because of the requirement to have exhausted all rememdies within the UK.

Inquiry by UN Disability Committee

Also under the Optional Protocol, the UN Disability Committee is able to conduct an inquiry if it receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State of Convention rights.

Inquiry report on UK, October 2016

The Committee's first inquiry has been in respect of the UK. In October 2016 the Committee found 'grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities' by the United Kingdom in respect of welfare reforms from 2010 onward.

There is a summary in this BBC report, and the full inquiry report and UK government response are on ohchr.org.

The UK government has rejected the report and seems to propose to do nothing. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and others wrote to the Minister in December 2016 expressing their concern about this.

Optional Protocol

On 26th February 2009 the UK Government also signed the Optional Protocol to the CRPD (link to ohchr.org).

This Protocol establishes two of the procedures mentioned above, namely bringing an individual petition to the UN Disability Committee claiming that the State (e.g. the UK) has breached their Convention rights, and conducting an inquiry if the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations.

Ratifications and reservations by UK

The UK ratified the Convention subject to certain reservations and 'interpretative declarations'. Details are set out in on this treaties.un.org page (click on 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'). The currenty reservations and declarations relate to:

Further links

International instruments.


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Last updated: 13th September, 2017